As with gridiron, a rugby team is divided into two groups – big, beefy guys, and smaller, faster guys. In rugby they are known as forwards (linemen) and backs.
A rugby team has two quarterbacks. One, the scrum half, always hangs around behind the scrimmage (or scum as it is called in rugby) ready to collect the ball and get it into open play. He has to be an expert at the quarterback sneak, and also at making swift, accurate lateral passes to his colleague, the fly half.
The fly half is the playmaker in rugby. He stands in what is essentially a shotgun position, though normally somewhat to the side rather than straight back. It is his job to read the state of play and make the tactical decisions: should he run, pass or kick the ball. Remember that there is no blocking, so the opposing forwards will be racing towards him as he makes up his mind. Generally the fly half is the best kicker on the team, as he has to do most of the punting.
Alongside the fly half are two centres (please note British spelling). These guys are the equivalent of running backs. Their skills are in footwork and ball handling, but they also have to double as safeties in defence.
A team also has two wings. They are the equivalent of wide receivers – fast and agile. In defence they double as corners.
Finally there is a full back. He is not a big guy like the gridiron fullback; he is the equivalent of a free safety, charged with roaming deep in defence to plug holes. In attack he acts as a reserve running back. Like the fly half, he has to be a good kicker. This is because one of his main jobs is to field incoming punts. If the opposition has been quick following up the kick often the only option is to punt straight back. Remember that he can’t take a knee; rugby doesn’t stop.
Generally a rugby team lines up with most of the backs in a horizontal line, slanted slightly backwards so as to avoid forward passes. One wing will go to the other side of the pitch from the main line, and the full back will hang back in reserve. However, there is no rule to say that teams should stick to this formation, and it is often varied.
A rugby scrimmage is not composed of two opposing lines. Rather both sides pack together in a wedge (indeed collectively the forwards are known as the pack). The section on the scrum will describe how this works. Meantime, the various positions are as follows.
The front three men are two props, either side of the hooker (stop laughing – those guys are bigger than you). These are equivalent to the center and his guards. Their job is to secure the ball. They are generally squat, barrel-like guys with no necks. When you have seen two packs charge each other in a scrum you will know why they have no necks.
Behind them there are two second row or lock forwards. They are the biggest guys on the field. It is their job to provide the forward momentum to the scrum. Because they are generally the tallest men on the team they are also the main lineout jumpers. Bill Clinton played lock when he was at Oxford.
Either side of the locks are the wing forwards or flankers. These guys are the equivalent of tight ends and linebackers. In attack they are the fastest of the forwards and need good ball handling skills. In defence their main job is to prevent the quarterback sneak, and ideally to sack the scrum half the moment he gets the ball.
Right at the back is the number eight. He provides more push, and often controls the ball as it comes back through the scrum. This guy is the closest rugby equivalent to the gridiron fullback. He is big, he is strong, and he will run through anyone.
And that’s it. Remember there are no specialist kickers, no special teams, and everyone has to play both attack and defense. There are very few rules about who may play what role. Players have to be able to take on other roles if required.
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